Steve Failla has spent every fall since 1984 involved in football, in one way or another. This year, however, marks a break in that pattern, and it’s a reflection of his growing interest in golf.
“Over the last handful of years, golf has become a passion of mine,” he said.
Failla, 40, who has been the Riverhead High School girls golf coach for four years, has taken on the added title of the school’s boys golf coach, succeeding Wade Davey.
Failla said he is fortunate to be taking over a team with two building blocks like Cody Weiss and Joe Hart, two seniors who he called two of the best golfers he ever played with.
Weiss is impressive, particularly for a player with only three years of experience. He is strong, can drive the ball over 300 yards and is consumed by the sport, coaches said. He played in the No. 1 slot last year and won every match over the second half of the season.
“He lives and breathes the game,” said Failla, who noted that Weiss shoots in the low 80s at the famed Bethpage Black course and caddies at multiple golf clubs. “He’s special.”
Weiss has solidified the No. 1 position, but Hart isn’t far behind him at No. 2, said Failla.
Seven players are competing for the Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6 positions. Among them are three returning sophomores — Cole Montefusco, Pete Panciocco and Kyle Gevinski.
New to the team are juniors Chris Flood and Justin Brennan, senior Andrew Smith, seventh-graders Chris Timpone and William Giglio, and sophomores Riley Lindsay and Jake Ratzke.
They will all play their home matches on the par-36 front nine at Cherry Creek Golf Links in Riverhead.
“I expect to be competitive, and that would be great for Riverhead,” said Failla.
Asked what he likes best about his team, Failla replied, “There’s not a coach who’s spending their afternoons on the golf course right now with a finer group of young men.”
Bishop McGann-Mercy’s coach, Larry Eslin, had warned a reporter that an interview about his team would be short.
The start of the interview went something like this:
Question: How many returning players do you have from your lineup last year?
Question: How many returning players do you have in all?
“I said it’s going to be short,” Eslin said, laughing. “I have zero varsity experience.”
And zero expectations. Never before in Eslin’s 12 years of coaching the Monarchs has he entered a season with so many unknowns.
Eslin saw this coming, though. The Monarchs (5-7) lost eight players to graduation and a ninth transferred. When Greg Gehring, who was used mostly as an exhibition player, transferred to Southold High School, McGann-Mercy’s varsity experience dropped down to that familiar number: 0.
When it was suggested to Eslin that he was facing the coaching challenge of his life, he said: “That’s an understatement. I went from last year to where I really didn’t have to worry too much to this year where I really don’t know too much.”
Given the situation, Eslin said he must treat all of his players like beginners. He said he is focusing on fundamentals, rules and golf etiquette.
Some of the players have a golf background, however. Jasper Bradley, a senior who was on the varsity football team last year, had played junior varsity golf. Scott Arturi, a senior, is making the jump from the junior varsity team. Sean Tuthill, a junior, ran cross country last year, but is another former junior varsity golfer. Marco Pascale, a senior best known for baseball, never played on a golf team before but is hoping to make the adjustment from swinging a baseball bat to swinging a golf club.
“I just want to see progress from these kids from the beginning of the season to the end,” said Eslin.
At the end of the interview, Eslin was asked if he had any final thoughts.
He laughed again and then said, “Good luck to me.”
Shoreham-Wading River coach Rich Muller did not return phone messages left for him.